Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

San Francisco Chronicle homegrown vaccine


San Francisco Chronicle homegrown vaccine

More Info
									San Francisco Chronicle
Explanatory Journalism Entry
Entry: A Warming World: The Difference a Degree Makes
Credit: San Francisco Chronicle Environment Writer Jane Kay
Dates: January 15-17, 2006
Page A1

By Jane Kay
Chronicle Environment Writer

Kaktovik, Alaska -- The two shaggy polar bears gnawed on shreds of meat hanging off
the carcass of a bowhead whale. They planted their flat furry feet on pieces of blubber
and ripped off strips of the rubbery fat with their teeth.

Up onto the spit of sand on Barter Island came two more, a mother and cub rising from
the slate-gray Beaufort Sea. They shook off sheets of water and sauntered over to share
the feast, greeting the others with a touch of shiny black noses.

Humans don't often see these luminous bears in the wild. They are not land animals, and
live nearly all their lives on the vast floating sea ice within the Arctic Circle.

Soon they may not be seen at all. The top of the world is ground zero for global warming,
the first part of Earth to show dramatic effects from the heating of the atmosphere and
oceans. The bears' frozen habitat is rapidly shrinking.

If a warming world melts nearly all sea ice during summers, as computer models predict
will happen by the end of the century, scientists warn that the polar bear is unlikely to
survive as a species.

To those who come to watch the scavenging bears on this sand spit, on the edge of the
Inupiat Eskimo village of Kaktovik, their growing numbers on land are one more sign
that a way of life thousands of years old is melting away.

When polar bears turn up on land, scientists think, it means the sea ice -- their home and
hunting ground -- has retreated so far from the shore and its rich coastal waters that they
can't find their main prey, ringed and bearded seals.

In the past, as part of the sea ice's yearly short-term melt, there would be open water for
only a few weeks. Now the ice breaks up earlier each spring, and the ocean freezes over
later each fall. The bears that swim to land must stay there longer, for as long as five or
six weeks, where they basically fast because food is scarce on land -- even with the whale
carcasses, which Inupiat whaling crews leave on the spit each September after butchering
their catch.

As the ice recedes farther each summer and fall, greater numbers of bears swim the 100
or more miles of open water to reach land. There they stay until the ice returns.

The Inupiats see evidence of warming all around them.

Longtime fishing camps are under water. The coastline is eroding. Unfamiliar species of
fish are caught in their nets. And the ice that defined their lives is disappearing.

In years past, as migrating whales swam close enough to hunt in September, the open
water was already freezing up. Whaling crews scouted the sea by climbing icebergs. The
bergs also calmed the sea swells.

"Now it takes longer for the ocean to freeze up,'' and at the whale hunt "there's hardly any
floating ice at all," said Charlie Brower, 46, a water-plant operator and whaling captain.
He was in a truck parked close enough to the feeding bears for his children to watch.

The whaling crews leave the carcasses on the sand spit to keep bears away from
Kaktovik, the only village in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the north coast of

After thousands of years of hunting the polar bear, eating its meat and using its dense fur
for clothing and tents, Inupiats today mostly like to watch them. The young people don't
share their grandparents' taste for bear meat.

The Inupiats feel a special relationship with the bear. Brower describes it as "respect.''
Others call the bear a relative, a guide in the quest for food.

At the whale bone pile, the bears are also watched by scientists from the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, experts who have made protecting the polar bear their career.

Twenty-five years ago, they mostly monitored the legal hunting of southern Beaufort Sea
bears, providing evidence that the regional population of 1,900, out of 22,000 worldwide,
could withstand limited hunting.

"We used to have to explain why the polar bear didn't have to be listed as a threatened
species," said Scott Schliebe, a marine mammal expert. "Now," he said, because of the
warming, "we're not so sure."

Now, he and other scientists track how climate change may be dooming the bears. This
year snow and sea ice didn't come to Barter Island until late October.

"Polar bears have developed a narrow niche," Schliebe said. "They feed on ice seals. The
ice is their home. It's where their food and nourishment come from.

"They'd be lost without it."

Nature guides the lives of Arctic dwellers, and over thousands of years they've adapted to
predictable seasons. Now things are changing at a rate perhaps too fast for the polar bear
and many other species to adapt, Schliebe said.

The current rate of loss of sea ice is likely to push the Arctic system into a climatic state
not seen for at least a million years, scientists say, based on the evidence they see in ice
cores and other natural records.

But what happens in the Arctic affects the globe as a whole, according to computer
models developed by an international body of scientists.

The Arctic melt is expected to amplify the Earth's warming, as there is less sea ice to
reflect sunlight back into space and more ocean to absorb solar energy.

As mountain and land glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet melt, sea levels will rise,
threatening low-lying populations around the world.

Melting permafrost releases carbon dioxide, adding to the greenhouse gases trapping heat
in the atmosphere.

Fresher water flowing into the North Atlantic from the Arctic will change ocean
temperatures and currents, which could disrupt the conveyor belt-like Gulf Stream and
lower Europe's temperature, even as the rest of the world warms.

"Today we're witnessing the effects of climate change on the polar bear firsthand,"
Schliebe said.

"We believe these are harbingers of changes yet to come.''

Inupiats respect the bears

The bears usually come out in the early morning and evening. One day near sundown, a
young male and a 600-pound mother with a 2-year-old cub prowled around the pile. Like
the others, they favored the blubber, which provides the weight they need to make it
through winter.

Daniel Akootchook, an Inupiat elder in a purple parka with a white wolf ruff, bounced up
in a snow machine, the mechanized four-wheeler that has replaced dogsleds. Every year
he waits for the bears to come.

The Eskimo belief is that the bear, which can stand erect on two legs, is the animal
closest to humans. Bears, they believe, are conceived to give themselves to people, but
they must be honored. If they are ill treated, they could withdraw, to humans' detriment.

Dozens of stories recount bears joining families as members, or offering supernatural
healing powers. Eskimos say their own hunting strategy imitates the bear's stalking of
seals -- flattening itself on the ground, hiding behind blocks of ice and even using
camouflage, covering its black nose with a white paw.

Akootchook has lots of polar bear stories, and they all start with "once."

"Once I saw a young boy throwing rocks at a polar bear,'' he said. "I told him if he throws
rocks at one bear, all polar bears will always try to hurt him.''

Once he found a young bear, and it became the family's pet.

Once his brother was out hunting, sleeping on the ice, and he heard a noise. He opened
the tent flap, and there was a bear's nose.

Akootchook, 73, was born and raised in the Eskimo culture, one of three Alaska native
peoples, along with Aleuts and Indians. People have lived in the Arctic since at least the
peak of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago.

His family doesn't know how long its ancestors have been on what is called the North
Slope. But even his generation at one time lived a nomadic sort of life, following the
natural hunting seasons for caribou, polar bears, geese, fish, seals and any other wildlife
they could eat to stay alive.

More than four-fifths of Kaktovik's 300 residents are Inupiat Eskimos, or Inuits. Most
pursue a traditional life, even though oil drilling in the 1970s in Prudhoe Bay, about 100
miles west, brought modest houses, electricity and running water.

The weather has always been the biggest topic in Kaktovik, a place where last January,
when the power went out for five days, the temperature was 20 degrees below zero and
winds were 85 mph.

But for much of the year the talk is about warming. Listeners calling KRBW, the Barrow
National Public Radio station that connects the North Slope, share tips on changing
conditions that can mean life or death.

Stopping at Waldo Arms, a lodging house, Charlie Brower's sister, Marie Rexford, a 42-
year-old mother of four, said the traditional life that keeps people together depends on the

"Every spring break, we take the kids out to see how we hunt, how we live off the land,''
she said. "They like to eat the Inupiat food. We teach them how to go and get them --
caribou, Dahl's sheep, bearded seal, moose and fish.''

But lately Rexford has seen evidence of the earlier melt -- rising sea levels, erosion and
odd wildlife sightings.

"We've been getting silver salmon and a weird-looking humpbacked salmon in our nets at
Griffin Point, east of Barter Island,'' she said.

In 1998 she caught, froze and brought to a state biologist one of the first saffron cods to
show up in the refuge's waters. "This year we got 18 in our net,'' she said.

These fish are normally found west and south of the Arctic Ocean. But a change in
marine currents and as little as a half-degree rise Fahrenheit in water temperature can
create or ruin a fish's habitat, scientists say.

Her daughter, Flora, 19, a young North Slope artist, has her own observations:

"The cliffs around here get smaller and smaller. They're eroding away, and you can see
the permafrost underneath. We used to be able to drive four-wheelers across the island on
the beach. Now it's hard to make it because there's so much mud.''

In April, when the family travels in snow machines to a cabin at Schrader Lake for a
week of hunting and ice fishing, they usually come back over frozen rivers, a seven-hour
trip. "This year,'' Flora Rexford said, "the ice melted really fast and was too mushy. We
had to travel over mountains.''

Watching the white ones

At the bone pile on Barter Island, parked about 30 yards away, Schliebe and two other
scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage watched the bears through

For a month every year, the research continues from dusk to dawn. Periodically the
scientists videotape each bear for 20 minutes, carefully recording the feeding and the
interactions among the animals and with the human onlookers.

The agency has authority for protecting the polar bears. The annual field work in
Kaktovik complements aerial surveys between Barrow and the Canadian border.

Schliebe, a heavy-shouldered man with a white mustache, leads the team. He has studied
polar bears in Alaska for 25 years and is past chairman of the polar bear specialists group
of the World Conservation Union, a body of nations, agencies and private groups
dedicated to protecting species.

Under an agreement combining Alaskan subsistence hunting and $25,000-a-permit sport
trophy hunting in Canada, 80 bears can be killed annually by U.S. and Canadian citizens.

In the last few years, new documentation of the shrinking sea ice and the harm to bears
has switched the focus from managing hunting to studying climate change.

Two Canadian researchers, Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher, found that in the
southernmost bear population of Hudson Bay, where the sea ice was shrinking fastest,
bears weighed less and had fewer births and survivals.

As sea ice thinned and broke up, the bears were forced to change how they lived and
hunted. And they spent more time on land, using greater amounts of energy to survive.

In the Beaufort Sea, meanwhile, more bears have come ashore in September as the
distance between sea ice and land has increased, Schliebe's team discovered during the
first five years of an ongoing study.

Polar bears don't come to land at all if conditions are good on the ice, Schliebe said.
Conditions are ideal when the ice is close enough to land to float over the shallow waters
of the continental shelf, a rich feeding ground for the seals that are the bears' main prey.

Now, even though the continental shelf extends 43 miles from the shore, summer ice
retreats far beyond it. There are no seals, so, out of desperation the bears go to land,
where there is hardly any food at all.

Since the mid-1990s, the sea ice has receded farther from Barter Island, this year as far as
250 miles or roughly five times the distance of some previous years.

Increasingly, the long swim to land poses its own danger. Some bears drown. Females
that give birth on land over the winter may not be able to bring their cubs back to the
distant sea ice in the spring.

In aerial surveys to count bowhead whales, the federal Minerals Management Service
reported seeing four drowned polar bears floating in open water in 2004, apparently
fatigued while trying to swim in high winds. They were seen in areas where the ice was
between 125 miles and 185 miles from land. Many more bears may have drowned than
they happened to spot.

"Two decades ago, the survey found the bears uniformly scattered on the ice over the
continental shelf in September," said Charles Monnett, a federal marine ecologist who
does the flight. "Now the sea ice has retreated north of the edge of the continental shelf,
and in September the polar bears are on the beach instead of on the ice.''

Polar bears, which split from an ancestor shared with the grizzly about 200,000 years
ago, evolved into powerful swimmers. They can maintain speeds of 2 to 3 mph and reach
up to 5 mph. In August, the Norwegian Polar Institute tracked a tagged bear traveling at
least 45 miles in less than 24 hours.

But no one knows how far a bear trying to get to land can swim.

"I believe that 100 miles is reasonable but 200 miles isn't,'' said Steve Amstrup, director
of polar bear research for 25 years with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Driving from the bone pile, Schliebe stopped along the shore to watch a young polar bear
mother, probably with her first cub, out on the barrier islands where the bears loaf.

"She needs to get beefed up," he said. "You can see she's nervous. Most bears conserve
energy by scraping out a low place for protection against the wind. She's right out in the

Winter was coming in, but polar bears don't hibernate. Only some pregnant females
would stay on land to den and give birth along the bluffs. The rest were waiting for the
ice to form solid enough platforms so they could return home to life on the ice.

Diminishing sea ice

Scientists worldwide are documenting in long-term studies what the Eskimos see on the
ground -- the spring breakup starts earlier; the winter recovery of sea ice comes later, and
the ice doesn't build back up to its former volume, leaving it more vulnerable the next

In the past few decades, the Arctic average temperature has risen at almost twice the rate
as the rest of the world. Paleoclimatologists say the Arctic is as warm as it has been for
more than 100,000 years.

In November, several scientific organizations reported that summer sea ice has declined
by 15 to 20 percent over the past 30 years, an area roughly equivalent to Texas and
Arizona. Based on data collected by satellites and ships, they concluded that the ice is
probably on an accelerating, long-term decline.

Scientists call carbon dioxide a "greenhouse gas'' because it keeps Earth warm by
trapping some of the heat it radiates. But too much of the gas can capture too much heat,
and that's what scientists say is happening now.

Since the Industrial Revolution started large-scale burning of fossil fuels, the
concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased 35 percent, to a level not
seen in 650,000 years, according to new research published by the European Project for
Ice Coring in Antarctica.

That period, for which the project has analyzed ice cores drawn from deep in Antarctica,
covers six natural fluctuations of ice ages and warming periods. The recent spike in
carbon dioxide goes beyond that natural variability.

Over the past century, the global average temperature has risen about 1 degree. That
might seem small, but adding a moderate amount of automobile and industrial emissions
to the atmosphere would raise temperatures an additional 4 degrees this century,
according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of
2,000 scientists from 100 countries.

But annual average temperatures in the Arctic, which increased at nearly twice the rate of
the rest of the world in the past few decades, are projected to rise even more: 5 to 9
degrees over land and up to 13 degrees over the ocean.

Over the past century, tidal gauges worldwide show a rise in sea level of about 7 inches ,
and the rate has been increasing. As land ice melts, and warmer water expands in volume,
sea levels could rise from 11 inches to more than 3 feet by the year 2090.

A 3-foot rise would affect not only the Inupiat on Barter Island, but also 100 million
other coastal dwellers around the world. It would drown the Pacific and Indian Ocean
nations of Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

In California, the rise would require extensive flood prevention measures around San
Francisco Bay and could play havoc with the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin
rivers, the source of much of the state's water supply.

Life-changing effects

At the North Slope Borough office in Kaktovik, village liaison Nora Jane Burns had lots
of examples of how the sea has risen and the ice has melted since she was in her 20s two
decades ago.

The anecdotes make her wonder where life is headed on Barter Island.

Her family had a summer fish camp nearby along the Jago River. "We used to camp right
on the sandbar," she said. "But now it's under water.''

Near the fish camp, Burns said, the ground used to be frozen hard. "Now you sort of
bounce when you walk on the ground.''

"We children would follow on the hunts with my dad," Burns said. "He had a really good
ice cellar a long ways from the beach. He used to put meat in it. Now the water line is 3
feet from the ice cellar.''

During the whale hunt the first week in September, there used to be snow flurries, Burns
said. "Now the winters are getting more mild, which I like.''

The climate changes brought by global warming could, in fact, benefit some parts of the
world. A popular bumper sticker around Anchorage reads, "Alaskans for Global

Burns said she can appreciate that sentiment. "I'm hoping we'll go tropical,'' she said with
a laugh. But when she considers the consequences, she said, she prefers the Arctic life
that the people know. "I wouldn't trade.''

Chronicle environment writer Jane Kay and photographer Kat Wade traveled
from Alaska to Mexico to see how global warming is changing life along the
coast of North America.

Today: Polar bears signal changing pack ice in the Arctic.

Monday: Subtle seaside transformation in California.

Tuesday: A family sees its way of life threatened in Mexico.

Podcasts: Download podcasts at

Day 2, Jan. 16, 2006, A1

By Jane Kay
Chronicle Environment Writer

Pacific Grove, Monterey County -- On the edge of the California coast, in the tide pools
that tourists can see from Cannery Row, delicate anemones and sea stars are helping to
tell the story of a warming world.

At low tide in the dawn light, John Pearse, a retired professor of biology at UC Santa
Cruz, kneeled in the water in hip-high waders examining sunburst anemones. He found
pink barnacles encrusting rocks, and the hard white shells of worm snails.

Those invertebrates normally are more common in warmer southern waters. But over
decades, they have increased in numbers here. Invertebrates that do well in colder water,
such as giant green sea anemones and porcelain crabs, have declined. Central California
has become more like Southern California.

"Animals are responding to changes in temperature, and the change in temperature is
very rapid,'' said Pearse, who began studying the low-tide zone as a graduate student
nearly 50 years ago.

Unlike in the Arctic, where floating sea ice and land glaciers dramatically melt before
Alaskans' eyes, along the California coast the signs of a changing environment are more

Those who know where to look can see that a few degrees increase in the temperature of
the Pacific and a couple of inches rise in sea level have already changed life in Monterey
Bay's fragile tide pools.

While some species will prosper, others may die. The question scientists up and down the
coast are pursuing is just how the continued warming of the atmosphere and water may
disrupt the ocean's intricate web of life.

In the ocean, the whales, seabirds and fish at the top of the hierarchy depend on lower
organisms for food. In the last six decades, as sea water temperatures on the Monterey
coast increased about 3 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists measured a 70 percent decline in
zooplankton, the tiny animals at the base of the food chain.

What does it matter if a warmer world loses some inedible crabs or sea stars?

"It's hard to predict,'' said George Somero, director of the Hopkins Marine Station, the
state's oldest marine laboratory, which looks down on the rocky shore here. "If you
remove one species from the ecosystem, there could very well be severe perturbations in
the system. In many cases, we can't predict what that means.''

Somero is the latest in a line of Hopkins directors who have peered into tide pools to
gauge the ocean's health. He's seen that many animals can't mutate fast enough to adapt to
higher temperatures.

"A 1-degree or 2-degree change has a very pervasive effect," he said. "These animals for
hundreds of thousands of years didn't have to adjust to temperature. So now the climatic
change is asking them to do things that they're not prepared to do.

"When species evolve, they don't build in extra protection for survival.''

Scientists have documented that plants and animals evolve in a web of synchronicity, the
normal workings of seasons, light and temperature and the interdependence of species for
food and reproduction.

Nut trees need bees to pollinate the fruit. Bees need the right temperatures to survive and
certain types of plants on which to feed. The plants need certain moistures, and perhaps
birds to help them reproduce.

Now, what humans know as normal natural systems will be thrown into disarray,
scientists say. Homo sapiens hasn't lived through these kinds of changes during the
200,000 years of its existence. No one can predict where it will lead.

Changing ocean

In the Arctic, glaciers and ice sheets melt, raising sea levels and flooding low-lying
shorelines. Shrinking sea ice disrupts wind patterns and sea conditions and destroys
habitat for the polar bear, ice seals and seabirds.

Alaska's average temperature has increased 4 to 5 degrees in the last 50 years, compared
with about 1 degree worldwide in the last century. In winter, it sometimes rains instead of
snows. The Portage Glacier, 45 minutes from Anchorage, is losing 20 feet a year.

On the Kenai Peninsula, wildfires have destroyed forests weakened by bark beetles that
survive the warmer winters, and salmon streams run at temperatures unsafe for spawning.

In Newport, Ore., Bill Peterson is an oceanographer who began studying the Pacific
nearly 35 years ago. He focuses on fish research for the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration from a laboratory looking out at the Yaquina Bay bridge.

He is seeing new species moving north, following prey fleeing warmer ocean conditions
that are now occurring more frequently, lasting longer, and appearing more unpredictably
than in the past 60 years.

Thirty-pound jumbo squid, 3 feet to 4 feet long, that used to come north from Central and
South America only in warm El Niño years, are now schooling in the Pacific Northwest -
- to the delight of diners and a burgeoning squid fishery.

But there is a matching decline of cold-water coho and Chinook salmon, anchovies,
smelts and tiny copepods, or plankton.

Peterson has come to a basic conclusion important to commercial and sports fisheries as
well as to the fish-loving public: "The salmon returns are very, very low in warm-water
years, and very high in cold-water years.''

He has some ideas why that is so, as his team works to understand the link between a
warm or a cold ocean and salmon survival.

"A fish like a salmon," he said, "will grow and survive better when feeding on a food
chain that has been fueled by krill, shrimp-like creatures, and fatty northern copepods,
tiny crustaceans. In warmer waters, the krill aren't as plentiful and the copepods aren't as
fatty, and so fish can't get as fat.''

The ocean is warming because the equilibrium between the energy the Earth receives
from sunlight and the heat the Earth radiates back into space has changed.

As carbon dioxide and other gases produced by burning fossil fuels accumulate in the
atmosphere, they trap more heat. Over decades, scientists say, that has warmed the ocean.

Ocean waters normally have a layer of warmer surface water on top of colder, deeper
water. The layers stir and mix vertically, forcing an upwelling of phosphates, nitrates and
other nutrients from the cold bottom up to the sunlit surface. There phytoplankton, tiny
plant life, grows and feeds the whole food chain, starting with the krill and the copepods.

But the warming has created a deeper layer of warm water at the surface that blocks the
mixing and the rise of nutrients. So there has been a decline in productivity -- fewer
zooplankton, fewer birds, fewer commercial fish.

Frank Schwing, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration in Pacific Grove, noted the importance of the deeper layer of warm water:

"It's the equivalent of a blacktop over the surface of the ocean.''

Farallon Islands

Twenty-seven miles off the Golden Gate, hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest on the
rocks of the Farallon Islands.

White sharks, humpback and blue whales, elephant and northern fur seals and California
sea lions feed on the fish, crustaceans, plankton and mollusks that live in the crashing

On the protected wild islands, Point Reyes Bird Observatory scientists have observed and
recorded the behavior and reproduction of a dozen seabird species for 35 years for the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Just as scientists have noted a decline in ocean plankton since the mid-1970s that is
correlated with warmer temperatures, the Farallones biologists have found that seabirds
reproduced poorly over the same period.

The driving force is the California Current, a band of water coursing along the coast from
Vancouver to Baja California.

The temperature of the current goes up and down like the stock market, influenced by the
powerful short-term effects of El Niños, the fluxes of warm water that are precipitated by
a failure of trade winds at the equator.

In cold years, the upwelling of nutrients is strong, boding well for sea animals from
plankton on up to marine mammals and seabirds. When the temperature goes up -- like
this year -- the sea life generally fares poorly.

Only recently, scientists determined that the warm and cold periods have alternated for
thousands of years according to 15- to 20-year cycles called climate regimes, driven by
currents from the North Pacific Ocean and changes in the direction of winter winds.

Oceanographers think the worldwide warming trend may be throwing off the pattern of
natural climate regimes. But they don't know how that may eventually affect the
California Current.

For now, biologists are looking at decades of records on success and failure rates of the
Farallon seabirds to see what they reveal about the effects of climate.

Last spring, by watching the sensitive Cassin's auklet, a stocky, robin-sized bird, biologist
Russell Bradley and his Farallones team were among the first scientists to note that the
California Current was warming and that the upwelling was weakening even though there
was no El Niño.

The auklets nest in rocks and in boxes that the biologists set out for them. Creeping up to
the boxes to observe, Bradley saw that when a cold northwesterly wind switched to a
southernly wind in April, auklets abandoned their nests.

Somehow they knew that the plankton they fed on wouldn't be there. And sure enough,
the number of krill dropped.

The krill returned later in summer, but the auklets didn't produce many, if any, young last

On land, warming has already thrown off the synchronicity of nature. Butterfly
populations have shifted north, ahead of the flowers on which they feed. Birds start to
build nests at the wrong time. So with the auklets and krill.

"Timing is everything for the seabirds,'' said Bill Sydeman, a biologist who has spent
more than 1,500 nights on the islands since he began as an intern 20 years ago.

Sydeman and others have tracked this pattern for three decades, seeing a decline in
Cassin's auklets to about 16,200 in 2005 from about 105,000 in 1972, as the ocean
warmed and as krill and other plankton declined.

David Ainley, a marine ecologist who has joined a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration cruise that monitors seabirds and marine mammals from Bodega Bay
south to Monterey every year since 1985, agrees that the shifts in climate regimes that
have been working for millennia may be out of kilter.

"Now the ocean and the atmosphere are warming, and it's causing the rules not to apply
any more," he said. "El Niños are more frequent and more intense.

"It's a new ballgame. It's going to take some decades to figure out what the rules are

Pacific Grove

The 400 miles of shore between Mendocino and Santa Barbara are considered world-
class for sea life because of the great biological diversity. Here lies an overlap of the
warm-water creatures that inhabit the shoreline south to Baja California, and the cold-
water species stretching north to the Bering Sea.

Below Cannery Row, biologist Pearse was searching for samples of warmer-water
invertebrates that have increased in the tide pools over the last 60 years.

One was a large sunburst anemone with golden streaks radiating from its mouth. "That's
just a beautiful animal," he said. "They're everywhere.''

Pearse pointed to some stakes in the tide pools, remnants of a classic study that was
conducted from 1931-33 by a Hopkins graduate student, Willis G. Hewatt, long before
scientists noticed effects of climate change.

Hewatt had pounded brass plugs into the tidal rocks, laying out 108 yard-long strips
where he counted every invertebrate he could find.

Sixty years later, Hewatt's count was updated -- only because of the persistence of Chuck
Baxter, a professor at Stanford University, which runs the Hopkins lab.

Baxter had noticed that the tidal zone at Hopkins was starting to look different. With the
appearance of a couple of new snails and other species, it looked more like Southern
California than it had in the past. For years, he urged graduate students and post-doctoral
fellows to retrace Hewatt's work.

"I couldn't get anyone to take me up on it,'' Baxter said one day at Hopkins.

Finally, in 1993, the last quarter before he retired, Baxter hit upon "two really great bright
students'' -- Raphael Sagarin, now at UCLA, and Sarah Gilman, now at the University of
South Carolina -- who took on the task.

"They were out there when the tides were out at 2 a.m., searching for the old pegs," he

In 1995 the team, joined by Jim Barry, benthic ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Research Institute, published their study, the first of a large assembly of plants and
animals responding to regional climate warming.

They noted a distinct shift as average shoreline water temperatures rose: Eight out of nine
southern species increased significantly, and five out of eight northern species decreased
significantly. The findings were consistent with predictions by models of global

The power of a few degrees' change in water temperature is shown dramatically in a
newer study by Jonathon Stillman, an assistant professor at the Romberg Tiburon Center
for Environmental Studies, operated by San Francisco State University.

As a doctoral student at Hopkins studying the ability of ocean creatures to adapt to
climate change, Stillman picked the porcelain crab. Some 20 species inhabit the tidal
zone from Baja to Alaska, closely related but living in different thermal habitats.

Turning over rocks to find crabs, he took them to the lab and placed them in warmer
water. Some crab species died of heart failure, in clenched contortions, when exposed to
water less than 1 degree above the maximum temperature of their natural habitat.

The findings were an ominous warning for crabs living in the upper tidal zones along the
coast. In Monterey Bay and the Gulf of California, Stillman found crabs are already
living near their upper-thermal limit in nature and don't have the capacity to shift their
heat tolerance.

"If the hottest summertime temperatures go up a degree in the Gulf of California or
nearly 3 degrees warmer in Monterey Bay, these animals will not be able to survive,'' he

Based on the amount of warming that has already occurred in oceans, many animals have
already been killed, scientists say.

Now Stillman is trying to learn if warmer water affects the crabs' organs or their
molecular structure. He wants to know why some species of the crab have a greater
capacity to adjust than others.

But he's certain about some things. "As the globe warms,'' he said, "these crabs and other
animals won't have time to mutate and evolve.''

La Jolla

Much of the world's global warming research is homegrown in California, on the shores
of La Jolla at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, operated by UC San Diego.

The giants in research stand out -- the late Roger Revelle and Charles David Keeling, and
John McGowan, who is 80.

McGowan, one of the nation's foremost biologists studying ocean conditions and
organisms, began with his doctoral studies at Scripps 50 years ago.

Retired, he divides his time between La Jolla, where he keeps his eye on his colleagues'
research, and Bandon, Ore., where he walks the beach and thinks about the decades of
research that have changed the way mainstream science views global warming.

First, he said, it was a question: Is there such a thing? Now, it's a reality, with new
knowledge revealed as studies pour in from scientists around the world, frequently
building on research begun more than a century ago.

One early breakthrough came from Scripps in the 1930s, when Revelle and colleagues
found that the ocean absorbed only half of the carbon dioxide released by the burning of
fossil fuels and other human activities. Scientists had thought the ocean absorbed 98

That led to research on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and in the 1950s Keeling confirmed
there was more of it in the atmosphere.

But it wasn't until the 1970s that scientists began to be certain that life in the ocean was
changing because of atmospheric and ocean warming, said McGowan, who contributed
to those studies.

"It took a long time to demonstrate," he said. "The ocean is in equilibrium with the
atmosphere. So if the atmosphere was warming, you'd expect the ocean to warm. But it
was difficult proving it.''

Much of the research was possible because Scripps, in the 1940s, helped establish what is
now recognized as some of the world's best marine data kept over time on plankton,
salinity, oxygen, nutrients and temperature.

The driving force in collecting that data was a decline in sardines.

In 1949, the state and federal governments, Scripps, Hopkins and the California Academy
of Sciences started the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation. Its
assignment: to figure out whether overfishing or natural cycles was behind a drop in
commercial catches of sardines, anchovies and herring.

Since then, ships have traveled hundreds of miles out to sea from Baja to San Francisco,
taking measurements to depths of 1,500 feet.

McGowan started monitoring the ocean in 1952 with other Scripps scientists, using data
from the project. Ocean shifts due to climate change began to pop out.

In the 1970s, McGowan and his colleagues proved that the ocean was warming in
equilibrium with the atmosphere. They found that as the atmosphere warmed, so did the
ocean, after a lag period. "If you apply heat to a pan of water, it heats up,'' he said.

In 1982, McGowan, Dudley Chelton and Patricio Bernal confirmed that there was a
large-scale response of the ocean system and its sea life to climatic variation. Looking
back over the longtime measurements, they saw the increase in temperature and a
decrease in plankton.

"The ocean plankton varied with the ocean temperature over many years," McGowan
said. "They were highly correlated.''

In 1995, McGowan and another Scripps scientist, Dean Roemmich, reported a 70 percent
reduction in zooplankton biomass off the coast of California since the 1950s.

By then, the scientists could say that the California Current had been gradually warming:
The ups and downs are warmer ups and downs. And the current's warming is part of a
global trend -- one that is getting worse, McGowan said.

"We now know that many other parts of the ecosystem are involved," he said. "It's not
just zooplankton anymore."

Day 3, Jan. 17, 2006, A1

By Jane Kay
Chronicle Environment Writer

Cabo Pulmo, Mexico -- When Jesus Castro-Fiol died last year at the age of 107, he was
survived by seven children, all living in this little settlement on the Sea of Cortez, and by
two generations of grandchildren.

The four generations had many things in common: a rich sense of family, a dependence
on the sea for their food and livelihood, and a respect for the natural wonders that draw
tourists here over many miles of bumpy dirt roads -- the spectacular Cabo Pulmo Reef
and the giant gray whales that migrate from the Bering Sea to give birth in the lagoons of
Baja California Sur.

At one time, the Castros joined the throngs of people fishing the 7-mile-long reef. But in
the last decades, they stopped taking sea life from the ocean nursery. Instead, they take
scuba divers to it.

They became environmentalists, organizing Cabo Pulmo to protect the fragile reef, the
northernmost living coral reef off North America, from the overfishing and injury that
threatened it.

But in Castro-Fiol's last years, the family watched as a warming climate began to put
their way of life at risk.

They saw parts of the reef sicken from a too-warm sea. They saw whales change their
behavior, circling the Baja peninsula in new patterns in search of cool water. They saw a
new tropical disease, dengue fever, emerge in Baja after a severe hurricane and kill a
member of the family.

Ricardo Castro-Fiol, a grandson of Jesus Castro-Fiol who dives at the reef about once a
day year-round, said the warming waters and stronger currents have changed the sea.
"We can feel the difference,'' he said.

The death from dengue fever in 2003 of his aunt, Maria Castro, 54, who 30 years ago
opened the only restaurant on the pristine beach, is the only known fatality from the
disease in Cabo Pulmo.

Public health researchers warn that as global temperatures continue to rise, the mosquito
species that carries the fever will multiply. In addition, models of how the Earth's

warming will affect global climates indicate intensifying storms and flash floods that
could aid the insect's spread.

Now when tropical storms come to Baja, many people fear more than losing electricity
and roads washing out. The phrase common in Cabo Pulmo is "calentando'' -- global

The coral

The reef starts only 100 yards off the beach, a lush underwater forest of red, orange,
yellow and purple corals. Farther out, in 70 feet of water, divers find the coral's massive
skeletons of calcium carbonate and nose into caves full of puffer fish, groupers, yellow-
tailed angel fish, octopus, tiger sharks and turtles.

Coral reefs are the world's most biologically diverse ocean ecosystems. The reef, or
frame, formed by living animals holds a million species in an intricate connection of
lower organisms, fish, birds, turtles and marine mammals.

Fisheries near reefs supply protein to millions of the world's poorest people, an estimated
one-quarter of the fish catch in developing countries. In such isolated communities as
Cabo Pulmo, the portion is much higher.

But in the past 30 years, rising sea temperatures associated with global warming have
been linked to a dramatic increase in the intensity and extent of damage to reefs known as

Scientists warn that continued warming could weaken or wipe out corals around the
world, and severely reduce the life in the ocean. They also warn that increased carbon
dioxide in the ocean may impede the growth of the corals.

Jesus Castro-Fiol, a fisherman, was the first Castro to see the reef. Family lore says he
could free-dive 75 feet for mother-of-pearl.

One by one, all the children found the vast underwater world -- three main reefs and
seven smaller fingers. It was a prime fishing ground for the Castros and other commercial

It wasn't until 1978 that Juan Castro-Montaño, a son of Jesus Castro-Fiol, began taking
tourists out to the reef to dive. When the divers came back to the boat, they raved about
the corals' beauty.

He wanted to see for himself, and went snorkeling. "When I saw the coral, I saw how
fragile it was, how beautiful it was," Castro-Montaño said.

But, he added, "that was also when I realized how important it was, and we were
destroying it.'' The divers, on the other hand, "weren't hurting anything. They were just
taking pictures.''

Fishing boats took thousands of tons of sea life out of the corals every year. The reef was
littered with fishing gear, anchors and harpoons left by Yankee whalers, which had
broken corals that took decades to grow an inch.

He spoke to some political leaders and bureaucrats about preserving it, but could get no
action. In the early 1980s, some teachers from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja
California Sur turned up. They talked to him about his interest in the reef, and from then
on they brought students.

By then, he didn't need to persuade his family and other people in town to change from
commercial fishing to tourism, he said. "My cousins and my uncles were doing
commercial fishing all day, and then they'd have to go to San Jose or La Paz to sell the
fish. They'd see me taking tourists diving -- and I'd make more money.''

Cabo Pulmo finally got national attention after Jacques Cousteau came looking for
Castro-Montaño in 1986, he said. In 1995 President Ernesto Zedillo signed a law creating
the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Reserve, banning fishing. The village is still waiting for
a management plan and for help from marine police in patrolling the reserve.

Oscar Arizpe-Covarrubias and Hector Reyes-Bonilla, coral researchers at the University
of Baja California Sur, say the reef system, with 10 species of sea fans and other
branched corals and 12 of stony corals, is one of the most stable in the eastern Pacific --
for now.

It suffered spots of bleaching in 1982-83 and 1997-98, periods of strong El Niños, fluxes
of warmer water that come from the tropics.

"Now, we see mostly healthy coral and some bad coral,'' said Ricardo Castro-Fiol, the
diver who takes tourists to the reef.

"I see some of the corals coming back,'' he said.

When water warms by 3 to 6 degrees, algae that live in symbiosis with the living coral
disappear, exposing the white calcium carbonate skeletons of the coral colony. The
bleaching can kill the corals.

The last bleaching event, in 1997-98, was the worst on record, and killed coral in parts of
Asia, the eastern Pacific and the Caribbean.

As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise, and the Earth's atmosphere
and oceans both warm, these events will become common within 20 years, and will occur
annually in most tropical oceans in 30 to 50 years, scientists predict.

If levels double by 2100, the heat tolerances of reef corals will be exceeded within a few
decades, projects the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- a
group of 2,000 scientists from 100 countries.

Oceanographers say damage to northern reefs such as Cabo Pulmo will lag behind
changes in the tropics, where reefs already live at temperatures near their thermal limits.
Scientists say corals can't evolve fast enough to shift to more hospitable regions as ocean
temperatures change.

"Cabo Pulmo is of great ecological importance because it's the northernmost coral reef of
the eastern Pacific,'' said Arizpe-Covarrubias, the researcher. "The animals and plants are
different from elsewhere in the Pacific.

"And it's of great importance for the people living there. The quality of their lives is
better now that they use the coral not for fishing but just for tourists.''


At this time of year, Pacific gray whales are returning to Baja California from their main
feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas, a journey of more than 5,000 miles that
is the longest migration of any mammal.

In their home lagoons on the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja Peninsula, females will bear
and nurse the young before returning north in April.

At times, the whales swim around the peninsula to Cabo Pulmo on the East Cape. The
whales bound in the waves, entertaining onlookers with their spouting antics.

The villagers think of the grays as the friendliest of the marine mammals. Mother gray
whales come with babies to waters as shallow as 25 feet.

But just as warming ocean waters are affecting corals, the warming of Arctic and
subarctic waters appears to be affecting whales. They are searching for food in different
places in the north, just as they're changing swimming patterns in the Sea of Cortez.

At the University of Baja California Sur in La Paz, Jorge Urban-Ramirez, an expert on
whales, coordinates the Marine Mammal Research Program.

He and his colleagues see the gray whale as an indicator of changing ecosystems, rather
than an immediate victim. Unlike corals, sea stars and millions of other species, he said,
whales can move, and they've done so over the millennia.

"The gray whales spend all of their life in shallow water on the continental shelf,'' he said.
"If they want to live in a changing environment, they have to adapt to different

During one La Niña year, when the water was colder than usual, the whales swam north
in the gulf all the way to Kino Bay, looking for warmer water, he said. They had stopped
swimming up there in the 1950s and 1960s when small boat traffic got too thick.

Why the whales migrate to the Arctic to feed might be tied to the end of past glacial
periods, Urban-Ramirez said.

Perhaps whales were always born in the lagoons, he said, and they have always fed on
fatty amphipods that live at the rich edge of sea ice. But 10,000 years ago, glaciers
reached farther south in North America. When the glaciers receded, the amphipods went
north and the gray whales followed.

Now, researchers say the whales' food supply is diminishing in the Bering Sea;
amphipods have declined over the last 25 years as currents in the North Pacific Ocean
warmed and sea ice gradually melted and thinned.

The warmest water temperatures on the continental shelf of the eastern Bering Sea were
first recorded in the summer of 1997, the same El Niño year of the bleaching of corals in
Cabo Pulmo and many parts of the world.

That year, a small phytoplankton replaced the normal summer phytoplankton, profoundly
affecting the rest of the food chain, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration scientists. When the zooplankton couldn't eat the smaller phytoplankton,
their numbers were reduced, seabirds starved, and salmon runs declined.

Since then, the warming trend has continued in the bottom level and at the top of the
northern Bering Sea. The numbers of the whales' favorite amphipods and other sea life
remain at low levels.

Hundreds of gray whales stranded dead along beaches from Mexico to Alaska on the
northern migration in 1999 and 2000. Whale scientists counted 200 dead in Mexico and
observed that one in 10 looked emaciated.

The cause of the deaths remains unknown. One theory is that the whales went to their
traditional feeding grounds, found a poor food supply, and then had to forage in less rich

"There are not as many whales being stranded as before,'' said Jackie Grebmeier, a
biological oceanographer at the University of Tennessee who will go to the Arctic this
spring to continue ecosystem studies.

"There are more gray whales traveling farther north to feed, and staying north longer.''

Dengue fever

In August 2003, Hurricane Ignacio raged over the tip of the Baja Peninsula with 105 mph
winds and 15 inches of rain. The desert's rutted roads and the town's potholes filled with
water. In previous years, people would suffer symptoms of dengue fever, a disease spread
by mosquitoes. But that year, nearly everyone in the village was sick.

Maria Castro, the wife of Juan Castro-Montaño and mother of four, woke up ill on Sept.
1, six days after the hurricane. Over the next three days she went to two different clinics.

A health worker at the first clinic sent her home with some medicine. A doctor at the
second clinic told her she shouldn't be taking the medicine. By then, ill and fevered, she
was so dehydrated she needed intravenous fluids.

On the fourth day she died.

"We later found out that you're not supposed to take anything -- not anything, not
vitamins, not anything, said her daughter, Angeles Castro-Murillo. "Only Tylenol and

A border publication, Frontera Norte Sur, reported 1,319 suspected cases of the fever in
Baja California Sur that summer.

International researchers began to warn that the cases raised concerns not only for the
sick but also for future generations: if the Earth continues to warm, warmer temperatures
and intensifying storms and floods would stimulate the reproduction of carrier
mosquitoes of dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5 percent of
those who get dengue fever die, but with proper treatment, the rate can be reduced to 1
percent. There is no vaccine or medication.

In 2005, dengue was the world's most widespread mosquito-borne viral disease affecting
humans, according to the CDC. As with malaria, an estimated 2.5 billion people live in
areas at risk of epidemics. Already epidemics sicken millions a year with dengue fever,
scientists say; only a small fraction of the cases get reported.

Last year, World Health Organization researchers reported that the worst outbreak in
years was due to heavy rains and warmer temperatures. In Asia alone, dengue fever
infected some 120,000 people in 2005, killing at least 1,000.

It takes freezing temperatures to kill eggs of Aedes, the mosquito carrier of both dengue
and yellow fever. So, warming trends can shift the mosquito and the distribution of the
disease to higher latitudes and altitudes, said Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin
environmental health physician who worked on the report.

Warmer water produces smaller adult mosquitoes, which have to feed more frequently to
develop an egg batch, he explained. The time to develop the virus inside the mosquito

also shortens with higher temperatures, increasing the proportion of mosquitoes that
become infectious, he said.

In a Mexico study, the most important predictor of the prevalence of dengue was found to
be the median temperature during the rainy season.

Beneath the shade of palm fronds at Maria Castro's open-air restaurant, La Palapa,
Angeles Castro-Murillo was serving her mother's invention, "Enchiladas de Doña Maria,''
filled with chopped avocados and onions, banded with pale yellow cheese.

"My mother was a wonderful cook," she said. "She fed the divers. But she didn't like the
ocean. We couldn't get her to go down to the water."

The death of her mother remains a heavy loss for the family, as does the fear that the
carrier mosquito could return to Baja.

Life has changed in Cabo Pulmo, and the descendants of Jesus Castro-Fiol know it's just
the beginning.

Note to judge: A graphic titled “A Delicate Balance” accompanied the third and final
day of this series. It has been entered in the Graphics category and is not shown here
for that reason.

Supplemental material
For audio slideshows, visit:


To top